Lake Winds energy plant in Mason County now has to mitigate noise of its windmills
Michigan's 51st Circuit Court has ruled that Mason County was justified in determining that wind turbines at the Lake Winds Industrial Wind Plant near Ludington are too noisy.
In his June 16 decision, Judge Richard Cooper denied Consumer Energy's appeal to have the court overturn the county's finding that the wind plant was exceeding the county's established decibel level limits.
In a highly technical explanation, Judge Cooper said it was reasonable for the county to take into account the impact of maximum wind speeds that are not outside the norm. He also rejected the argument that excessive noise levels occurring only during certain periods of time should be allowed.
Lake Winds is a 56-turbine facility located south of Ludington. It was the utility company's first wind plant project in Michigan. Residents who live near the $255 million plant began complaining of health problems shortly after the turbines began operating. They filed a lawsuit on April 1, 2013, arguing that noise, vibrations and flickering lights emanating from the wind plant were adversely affecting their health. Among the symptoms noted in the lawsuit were dizziness, sleeplessness and headaches.
In September 2013, the Mason County Planning Commission determined that the wind plant was not in compliance with safety guidelines. CMS Energy, which is the parent company of Consumers Energy, then appealed that decision to the Mason County Zoning Board of Appeals and lost. In January, CMS took the case to court and it has now lost again.
CMS spokesman Dennis Marvin said the utility has yet to decide whether it will appeal Judge Cooper's decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
"Obviously, we were disappointed by the decision,” Marvin said. "We are still evaluating whether or not to appeal. In accordance with the court's ruling we are cooperating with Mason County on our mitigation plan."
Mason County has hired experts to continue tests at the wind plant. However, because wind speeds are generally low in the summer the testing isn't likely to resume until September, at the earliest. Under the mitigation plan, affected wind turbines are now operating at reduced power levels to lower the sound level.
"CMS energy has no one to blame but themselves," said Kevon Martis, director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, a non-profit organization that is concerned about the construction of wind turbines in the region. "The citizens living inside Lake Winds wind plant paid for independent noise studies of the project before it was built. Independent analysis demonstrated that the turbines would not only exceed the noise ordinance as proposed by CMS and adopted by Mason County but that the turbine noise would create widespread complaints and result in legal action by those subjected to this industrial development in a rural environment."
Lake Winds is part of the utility's effort to meet Michigan's renewable energy mandate, which requires that 10 percent of the state's energy be produced by in-state renewable sources by 2015. Though the mandate was ostensibly aimed at reducing carbon emissions, the 2008 law did not require that emissions be monitored to measure the mandate's actual impact.
"This should be a warning that there is a price to be paid for ignoring the clear acoustical science that predicted this social disaster long before the first shovel of dirt was ever turned," Martis said.